Sunday, November 10, 2013

Everest: The First Ascent From North (Col), by Mohinder Singh

My 400th Everest book! I looked for a good one that was hard to come by and also had a good story, as with my other century books, Goswami's Everest, Is It Conquered? (100), Shin's Orient Express to Crystal Summit (200), and Doskov and Petkov's How We Conquered Everest (300). If you've read Krakauer's Into Thin Air, then you should be familiar with the three Indian climbers, T. Samanla, Tsewang Paljor, and Dorje Morup, who were caught high on the Northeast Ridge of Everest during the storm of May 10th; however, their story is told only as a tragic footnote to the events happening nearby, among and around Krakauer's own team. Singh writes their full tale, along with that of their entire expedition in the book presented below!

Mohinder Singh, Commandant (Retd.) ITBP, writes of the successful, yet tragic 1996 Indo-Tibetan Border Police Everest expedition, which he led, in Everest: The First Indian Ascent from the North (Col). Singh had a tough job, following three failed Indian attempts at the North Col route, and working ahead of and among other expeditions to make the sort of climb the ITBP could be proud of. His is the largest expedition on the Tibetan side of Everest in 1996, and they provide the most manpower and material support for stringing the route and supplying the mountain. He shows how much work it can be, to not only lead an Everest expedition, but to lead an Indian Everest expedition, documenting, without complaining, a bit of the bureaucracy he faces, both from China and his home country. He gives a small taste of the great amount of organization that went into his leading the climb, both on the mountain and beforehand, within the text providing lists of the days' accomplishments, schedules, or bullet points for important information.

Once the team makes it away from New Dehli, the text takes the form of a daily journal, with chapters separating important parts of the climb. Singh provides a great amount of information regarding the team's daily accomplishments, with occasional small interpersonal details and the team's interaction with other teams included, as long as they are important to the overall function of the Indian team. I love the focus of this book, as it creates a bit of a microcosm out of their climb, detailing what it takes, and including only what is important to get a large number of climbers to the summit of the world's highest mountain. The expedition and its climbers are considerably more open---Camp II gets a reputation as an Indian restaurant due to their willingness to share with passers-by, they liaise with other teams to string the route, and they lend the use of their satellite equipment to other teams in need. He focuses the narrative on their working together with the Japanese team's Sherpas to work the North Ridge and his continuous communication with the Japanese leader to coordinate their climbs.

That focus makes it all the more tragic when two Japanese climbers and their Sherpas climb past three dying Indian climbers on May 11. The three Indians had made the summit as the storm of May 10th was building, and were not heard from after their radio transmission from the summit. However, May 11th dawned clear enough to see the climbers with binoculars from the North Col, and watch as the Japanese team stopped for a rest and a snack 40 meters beyond one of the stricken Indian team. After reaching the summit, they again climbed past the three Indian climbers. While Singh does not credit the Japanese with his teammates' deaths, he does find their actions inexcusable and unexplainable. After a period of mourning, he turns to his team to decide a future course. They return to place five more climbers on the summit in a single push a week after the first ascent and the storm.

Some interesting facts from this book: They have a Sherpa, Wangde, who becomes ill from an old complaint, returns to Kathmandu with a team member, and dies in the hospital while they are still on the mountain; this death is not generally recorded in the tally for 1996, though a similar death (Ngawang Topche's) from the South is. Singh claims that his second summit team noticed Dorje Morup, not Tsewang Paljor, in the hollow near the First Step, though most secondhand accounts switch them. Based on the photographs in the book, you'll see that every team member for this climb was issued with green boots---it was not just "Green Boots," (the irreverent name given to the climber in the hollow), with a wild fashion sense. Lastly, this is the only Everest book I've so far read with a section on edible and medicinal Himalayan herbs.


  1. Dear Sir,
    Myself Mohinder Singh Leader/Writer of this Expedition Book with my other colleagues are hereby extending our appreciation for your precise blog highlighting facts & figures,nature behavier,and human willpower. This has been readover world wide and will go longway as a guiding factor with forthcoming climbing to the Mighty EVEREST.
    From: Commandant Mohinder Singh Sangha (Rted) ITBP/Indian Leader Everest 1996
    Phone Cell:- 1(510)938-1396 Home/Fax:- 1(510)742-1544

    1. Dear Mr Singh,

      I am wondering if you have an email address through which I can contact you?

      Thank you in advance,


  2. This comment has been removed by the author.

  3. Epic Tale of victory of Mount Everest in 1996. Success story of First Ascent from North (Col)- First Indian Successful yet tragic 1996 Indo Tibetan Border Police Force Expedition. Watch the real life story of Braveheart Mohinder Singh Sanga, Commandant, ITBP